Not many teams find themselves three down to wolves by half-time, but that’s the score when Liam Neeson and his fellow crash survivors run into the meanest defence west of Birmingham.
Whether they can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat remains to be seen as director Carnahan brings the raw edge of his debut Narc to this snowbound, mens’ own adventure.
Neeson is Ottway, a moody sharpshooter who is flying home with similarly knackered roughnecks after months spent keeping marauding wildlife away from an Alaskan oilfield. Unfortunately it seems there’s no rest for the jaded when their plane goes down in the middle of nowhere.
To Ottway and the other surviving roughnecks, it’s the seventh circle of sub-zero hell. To the vicious lupines that suddenly surround them, however, it’s home. And anything that breathes, bleeds and doesn’t howl is either food or trespassing.
So they’re coming, hungry or not.
Plot-wise, it’s not the hardest trail to follow as Ottway leads the ragtag bunch through Fang Central with no guns and no means of communication. And though played by the likes of Dermot Mulroney and rising stars Joe Anderson (Control) and James Badge Dale (Shame), there’s nothing complex about the characters either.
Frank Grillo’s token troublemaker Diaz aside, they’re a pretty interchangeable lot; regular working joes whose back-stories sound borrowed from a middling blues album.
But while Carnahan thins their numbers through adrenalin-pumping episodes involving high precipices, icy rapids and near-demonic predators, this is less gung-ho than you might expect.
Instead of plunging from one Stallone-style cliffhanger to the next, Carnahan takes plenty of breathers... if only to see determination give way to cold despair. Which makes the abruptness of the action all the more jarring.
Carnahan and co-writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (on whose short story ‘Ghost Walker’ the film is based) also maintain a stream of grim humour to enhance the nihilistic mood.
It might put Jack London on a downer, but The Grey exists a few degrees North of the usual Hollywood no man's land.